My family and I watched the movie “Fences” this weekend. The movie is about a 1950’s family, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. (Spoiler alert-I’m going to discuss some plot details here, in case you haven’t seen it). In the movie, the Denzel Washington character starts the movie with (what seems like) a small thread of a bad habit. He flirts with someone who isn’t his wife. That habit evolves into a cancer that eats into the fabric of his family. By the end of the movie, he has fathered a child born out of wedlock, and destroyed two families. My daughter described him as an Awful Human Being.
The Lords Prayer (Matthew, Chapter 6, verses 9-13) includes the phrase “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. My sense is that temptation is a universal problem.
I say that not as a paragon of virtue, but as a fellow who has a temptation problem. I’ll share one (sort of) socially acceptable example. I was kidnapped a few years ago by a family of vegetarians. They love being vegetarians, and never discuss eating meat. It isn’t an option for them. It still seems to be an option for me.
Sometimes I take my dog for a walk, and smell the smell of my neighbors using their grills. I can smell that smell from one hundred yards away, if the wind is blowing in the right direction. When I smell that smell, my dog and I start talking about hopping over the fence, and executing The Great Cheeseburger Caper. I’m drooling as I write that sentence.
Please lead me not into temptation. I can’t afford the bail money.
I know some people with temptation issues. This month, several of them seem to have issues with gambling. I have learned about people who have gambled away everything. By “everything”, I do mean everything-houses, cars, careers, families. Everything.
I know a fellow who tells about coming back from a casino, and not having the money to pay the toll to cross the bridge into Philadelphia. He gambled away everything that he had, until he had nothing left. Not even toll money. He hasn’t gambled since.
I was in a casino in 1988, before a Rolling Stones concert in Atlantic City. I put a quarter in a slot machine, and a bucket full of quarters poured out. I won $50, back when $50 seemed like a lot of money to me. I couldn’t put those quarters back into the slot machine fast enough. Five minutes later, the money was all gone. I haven’t been in a casino since.
The New Testament isn’t the only part of the Bible that talks about temptation. The topic is discussed in the second verse of the Old Testament (Genesis, verse 2). Something about an apple. The instructions were very clear: Do Not Eat The Apple!
As I recall, Adam and Eve had a temptation problem too.
Temptation was also a theme in Greek mythology. The Sirens were temptors who tempted sailors toward a set of rocks. If the sailors listened to the song of the sirens, they steered their ships into the rocks and died. In order to avoid the Sirens, sailors (it was said) had to be strapped to the masts to avoid their fiery temptation.
Two years ago, I wrote an essay called Role Models. It’s in my book “Can Openers”. I think it is one of my best essays.
When I was young, my role models were rock stars and professional athletes. They had a lot of money, and (what looked like) very exciting lives. Then I noticed that my role models weren’t living very long, or very happy lives. So I changed my role models.
My current role models are very good at avoiding temptation. I don’t know how they do it, exactly. But they are faithful to all of their responsibilities and commitments. They honor their wedding vows, and they show up to work every day. That faithfulness to their commitments looks really appetizing today. Even more appetizing than the cheeseburger smell from my neighbor’s yard.
Please lead me not into temptation.